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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 13–21
Verses 13–21

Here we have Jacob’s prophecy concerning six of his sons.

I. Concerning Zebulun (Gen. 49:13), that his posterity should have their lot upon the seacoast, and should be merchants, and mariners, and traders at sea. This was fulfilled when, two or three hundred years after, the land of Canaan was divided by lot, and the border of Zebulun went up towards the sea, Josh. 19:11. Had they chosen their lot themselves, or Joshua appointed it, we might have supposed it done with design to make Jacob’s words good; but, being done by lot, it appears that it was divinely disposed, and Jacob divinely inspired. Note, The lot of God’s providence exactly agrees with the plan of God’s counsel, like a true copy with the original. If prophecy says, Zebulun shall be a haven of ships, Providence will so plant him. Note, 1. God appoints the bounds of our habitation. 2. It is our wisdom and duty to accommodate ourselves to our lot and to improve it. If Zebulun dwell at the haven of the sea, let him be for a haven of ships.

II. Concerning Issachar, Gen. 49:14, 15. 1. That the men of that tribe should be strong and industrious, fit for labour and inclined to labour, particularly the toil of husbandry, like the ass, that patiently carries his burden, and, by using himself to it, makes it the easier. Issachar submitted to two burdens, tillage and tribute. It was a tribe that took pains, and, thriving thereby, was called upon for rents and taxes. 2. That they should be encouraged in their labour by the goodness of the land that should fall to their lot. (1.) He saw that rest at home was good. Note, The labour of the husbandman is really rest, in comparison with that of soldiers and seamen, whose hurries and perils are such that those who tarry at home in the most constant service have no reason to envy them. (2.) He saw that the land was pleasant, yielding not only pleasant prospects to charm the eye of the curious, but pleasant fruits to recompense his toils. Many are the pleasures of a country life, abundantly sufficient to balance the inconveniences of it, if we can but persuade ourselves to think so, Issachar, in prospect of advantage, bowed his shoulders to bear: let us, with an eye of faith, see the heavenly rest to be good, and that land of promise to be pleasant; and this will make our present services easy, and encourage us to bow our shoulder to them.

III. Concerning Dan, Gen. 49:16, 17. What is said concerning Dan has reference either, 1. To that tribe in general, that though Dan was one of the sons of the concubines yet he should be a tribe governed by judges of his own as well as other tribes, and should, by art, and policy, and surprise, gain advantages against his enemies, like a serpent suddenly biting the heel of the traveller. Note, In God’s spiritual Israel there is no distinction made of bond or free, Col. 3:11. Dan shall be incorporated by as good a charter as any of the other tribes. Note, also, Some, like Dan, may excel in the subtlety of the serpent, as others, like Judah, in the courage of the lion; and both may do good service to the cause of God against the Canaanites. Or it may refer, 2. To Samson, who was of that tribe, and judged Israel, that is, delivered them out of the hands of the Philistines, not as the other judges, by fighting them in the field, but by the vexations and annoyances he gave them underhand: when he pulled the house down under the Philistines that were upon the roof of it, he made the horse throw his rider.

Thus was Jacob going on with his discourse; but now, being almost spent with speaking, and ready to faint and die away, he relieves himself with those words which come in as a parenthesis (Gen. 49:18), I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord! as those that are fainting are helped by taking a spoonful of a cordial, or smelling at a bottle of spirits; or, if he must break off here, and his breath will not serve him to finish what he intended, with these words he pours out his soul into the bosom of his God, and even breathes it out. Note, The pious ejaculations of a warm and lively devotion, though sometimes they may be incoherent, are not therefore to be censured as impertinent; that may be uttered affectionately which does not come in methodically. It is no absurdity, when we are speaking to men, to lift up our hearts to God. The salvation he waited for was Christ, the promised seed, whom he had spoken of, Gen. 49:10. Now that he was going to be gathered to his people, he breathes after him to whom the gathering of the people shall be. The salvation he waited for was also heaven, the better country, which he declared plainly that he sought (Heb. 11:13, 14), and continued seeking, now that he was in Egypt. Now that he is going to enjoy the salvation he comforts himself with this, that he had waited for the salvation. Note, It is the character of a living saint that he waits for the salvation of the Lord. Christ, as our way to heaven, is to be waited on; and heaven, as our rest in Christ, is to be waited for. Again, It is the comfort of a dying saint thus to have waited for the salvation of the Lord; for then he shall have what he has been waiting for: long-looked-for will come.

IV. Concerning Gad, Gen. 49:19. He alludes to his name, which signifies a troop, foresees the character of that tribe, that it should be a warlike tribe, and so we find (1 Chron. 12:8); the Gadites were men of war fit for the battle. He foresees that the situation of that tribe on the other side Jordan would expose it to the incursions of its neighbours, the Moabites and Ammonites; and, that they might not be proud of their strength and valour, he foretels that the troops of their enemies should, in many skirmishes, overcome them; yet, that they might not be discouraged by their defeats, he assures them that they should overcome at the last, which was fulfilled when, in Saul’s time and David’s, the Moabites and Ammonites were wholly subdued: see 1 Chron. 5:18-22 Note, The cause of God and his people, though it may seem for a time to be baffled and run down, will yet be victorious at last. Vincimur in praelio, sed non in bello—We are foiled in a battle, but not in a campaign. Grace in the soul is often foiled in its conflicts, troops of corruption overcome it, but the cause is God’s, and grace will in the issue come off conqueror, yea, more than conqueror, Rom. 8:37.

V. Concerning Ash 5057 er (Gen. 49:20), that it should be a very rich tribe, replenished not only with bread for necessity, but with fatness, with dainties, royal dainties (for the king himself is served of the field, Eccl. 5:9), and these exported out of Asher to other tribes, perhaps to other lands. Note, The God of nature has provided for us not only necessaries but dainties, that we might call him a bountiful benefactor; yet, whereas all places are competently furnished with necessaries, only some places afford dainties. Corn is more common than spices. Were the supports of luxury as universal as the supports of life, the world would be worse than it is, and that it needs not be.

VI. Concerning Naphtali (Gen. 49:21), a tribe that carries struggles in its name; it signifies wrestling, and the blessing entailed upon it signifies prevailing; it is a hind let loose. Though we find not this prediction so fully answered in the event as some of the rest, yet, no doubt, it proved true that those of this tribe were, 1. As the loving hind (for that is her epithet, Prov. 5:19), friendly and obliging to one another and to other tribes; their converse remarkably kind and endearing. 2. As the loosened hind, zealous for their liberty. 3. As the swift hind (Ps. 18:33), quick in despatch of business; and perhaps, 4. As the trembling, timorous in times of public danger. It is rare that those that are most amiable to their friends are most formidable to their enemies. 5. That they should be affable and courteous, their language refined, and they complaisant, giving goodly words. Note, Among God’s Israel there is to be found a great variety of dispositions, contrary to each other, yet all contributing to the beauty and strength of the body, Judah like a lion, Issachar like an ass, Dan like a serpent, Naphtali like a hind. Let not those of different tempers and gifts censure one another, nor envy one another, any more than those of different statures and complexions.