Assembling the Tribes – Genesis 49:1-2
Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob; listen to your father Israel.”
Jacob deliberately gathers his sons about his death bed for the purpose of passing on a message to them.
We are clearly told in verse 1 that Jacob will be speaking about those things that will happen in “the last days” or as the New American Standard Bible (NASB) states, “in the days to come.” The term “the last days” or “in the days to come” projects Jacob’s comments into the far distant future.
In most cases, depending on the context, the phrase “in the last days” refers to the end of the age that we are living in right now and will culminate with the institution of the Messianic Kingdom. Almost all the ancient Jewish commentators take this position as well.
Nachmanides, Sforno, and Rambam all concur that Jacob is peering down the conduit of time toward the Messianic era; He is looking toward the institution of the Messianic Kingdom.
In a similar manner, the Midrash Rabbah to Genesis states:
… Isaac summoned Esau and wished to reveal the end to him, but the Holy One, blessed be He, hid it from him as it says, And he [Isaac] called Esau his elder son (Gen. XXVII, I). Jacob too wished to reveal the end to his sons, for it says, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the end of days (ib. XLIX, 2).
The Midrash’s footnotes adds: When Messiah would come. Proof by analogy, since ‘called’ is written of both Isaac and Jacob, that both had the same purpose.
Other examples include:
- Midrash Rabbah Genesis XCIX, Second Version, 5.
- Midrash Rabbah, Genesis XCVIII, 2:
- Targum Pseudo-Jonathan:
- Fragmentary Targum to the Pentateuch:
AND JACOB CALLED UNTO HIS SONS (XLIX, I). Why did he call them? In order to reveal to them the end [Messianic redemption].
… The rabbis said: he was about to reveal the end [the Messianic redemption] to them, but it was hidden from him. R. Judah said in the name of R. Eleazar b. Abina: To two men was the end revealed, only to be hidden again from them, and they are these: Jacob and Daniel. Daniel: But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book (Dan. XII, 4). Jacob: THAT WHICH SHALL BEFALL YOU IN THE END OF DAYS…
The Midrash’s footnote here says: Implying that the book – the secret of Messiah’s advent – had hitherto been opened to him.
Then Jacob called to his sons and said unto them “Purify yourselves of uncleanness, and I will tell you the hidden secrets, the concealed date of the End, … as soon as the date of the End when the King Messiah was revealed to him, it was immediately concealed from him, and therefore, instead (of revealing the date) he said: “Come,” and I will relate to you what will happen to you at the end of days.”
The Targumists see in the Hebrew phrase באחרית הימים “at the end of days,” a reference to Messiah’s arrival. Certainly it is totally nothing more than pure speculation and a classic example of how a verse can be used to support your own beliefs. In this case the Targumist is using the verse to help the traditional Jewish viewpoint that no one should try and calculate the time of Messiah’s advent.
… For he was revealing to them all that was going to occur at the very end, the time of the Messiah. But as soon as it was revealed to him it became concealed from him. So Jacob arose and blessed them, each according to his deserts.
The attempted revelation of the date of the advent of the Messiah by Jacob, and its sudden withdrawal are discussed in Genesis Rabbah 98:2.
In other words, God is revealing to Jacob the future history of his descendants. The sons of Jacob assemble around his death bed as the representatives of the 12 tribes. They represent the entire Jewish people because the revelation goes far beyond these dozen men. The revelation summarizes the characteristics of the entire Jewish people from Jacob’s day until the Messianic Kingdom.
For those who would like to study the idea of the “Last Days” in more detail, here is a list of “Last Days” passages to consider: Isaiah 2:2, Hosea 3:5, John 6:40, Acts 2:17, II Timothy 3:1, II Peter 3:3, Jude 18, Ezekiel 30:2, Joel 1:15, Zechariah 14:7, Joel 2:29, Micah 4:1, II Timothy 3:1, Hebrews 1:2, Numbers 24:14, Joel 2:28, I Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 1:1, James 5:9, I John 2:18, Jeremiah 48:47, and Genesis 49.
Jacob’s opening comments are negative. Three of his sons, three tribes, will be disqualified from leadership over Israel. They will be disqualified because of serious character flaws that they could not correct.
Jacob’s attention is first directed to his oldest son Reuben in verses 3-4.