As I was reading the final chapters of the Book of Genesis, my mind was already thinking ahead to Exodus with Moses and Pharaoh and the plagues. It was like: There's nothing to see here. Let's move on, folks.
Then I read Genesis 49 where Jacob blessed his twelve sons and I thought I just had to write about it. It was too good to pass over.
But, It was one of those things where I didn't know if it would be possible to do. There were long blessings mixed in with shorter ones — how would I treat that? Looking ahead to the end of the blessing: Benjamin's little blurb following Joseph's heart-felt double-portion seemed like the entire thing might end up with a whimper. What rhymes with wolf, anyway?
A couple of weeks ago, after writing Have you heard the latest? — which has been the typical style for my writing lately — I realized that limiting myself to 6 to 8 syllables per line and having double-rhymes buried within some lines were really hampering my ability to — I don't know what, exactly . . . fully get things said, maybe.
With this in mind, and the fact that I would be losing a couple of syllables every time one of Jacob's sons was mentioned, I broke with the norm (and the familiar) and decided to try something different. This poem has lines of 10 and 11 syllables and I was pleased with how the first verse turned out. Then, after the second and third verses were written, I got really nervous about how the rest of the poem would turn out.
As I continued writing, I noticed how Jacob freely moved between speaking in the second-person (you, your) to third-person (he, his, they, them) during his speech. This messed with my need for uniformity — it should be either one way or the other!
So, halfway through writing the poem I changed everything to second-person. After I was totally done, I wimped out and rewrote it as it is found in the Bible. Now, as I'm writing this and proofing things, I'm ready to go back the other way. I'm not sure why Jacob would have talked like that (or, did the pronouns get changed in the translation?) when his sons are right in front of him.
As I consulted the different translations, I found much uniformity among them. But, I also found some wildly different phrasings in a few places. For that reason, I am splicing pieces of various versions below to show the path that I followed.
For example, in one translation, Naphtali "gives beautiful words [NASB]", while in another he "bears beautiful fawns [NLT]". But, I wrote what I wrote because some commentaries that I skimmed spoke of "goodly words" in this passage.
This is something that I found interesting on my journey:
Jacob's Sons & Their Notable Descendants
Chronological Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.)
So, there you have it. Moses and Pharaoh and the plagues will need to wait a little longer. And, they'll need to wait even LONGER because my Chronological Bible has me reading the book of Job next.
Based on Genesis 49:3-27
Reuben, my firstborn and child of my youth;
the first of my line and excelling in life.
But troubled as water as your actions proved,
since using my bed to defile my wife.
Simeon, Levi — you're two of a kind;
your swords are the weapons of violence and pain.
I'll not be a part of the plots you've designed,
for innocent men in your rage have been slain.
You've crippled the cattle and then called it play.
But now may your fury and anger be cursed:
your portion divided and given away;
your sons will be scattered, your daughters dispersed.
Judah, to whom all your brothers will bow;
your hand keeps a grasp on your enemy's neck:
the cub of the lion returning just now
with prey in his clutches commanding respect.
Judah, the scepter will never leave here —
the staff of the ruler shall stay where it is
until the Messiah, or Shiloh, appears
with all of the nations' obedience, his.
You tether your donkey and foal to the vine;
in blood of the grapes you wash garments of silk.
Behold, you have eyes that are darker than wine
and teeth that are brighter and whiter than milk.
Zebulun, you shall reside by the sea,
near Sidon, a haven for ships at your shore.
Issachar, strong as a donkey can be,
found sleeping between the two packs that you bore.
Gazing around you and breathing the air
and finding this resting place pleasantly bland,
you'll lower your shoulder for burdens to bear,
submitting to slavery to live in that land.
Dan, you'll provide for your people, the law;
as judge of the tribes you'll bring justice to all.
For you are a viper the horse never saw,
whose hoof you will bite so its rider will fall.
Gad is besieged by a treacherous band
but turns them in triumph to snap at their heels.
Asher, your bread is made rich by your hand,
providing for kings the delights of your meals.
Naphtali, a doe — running free as a hind,
composing such beautiful words, I recall.
Joseph, now you are a fruit-bearing vine —
a vine near a spring climbing over a wall.
Archers with arrows of vengeance let fly,
embittered and hostile these warriors attack;
your bow remains steady, your hands remain spry,
your arms remain supple, withstanding the flak.
Because of the Name of the Shepherd and Stone,
the God of your father and his mighty hand;
because of the God of your father — alone
and blessings Almighty has at his command.
He opens his heavens for you to be blessed,
the oceans and seas and the caverns below;
the blessings of womb and the blessings of breast,
the blessings of children that parents all know.
My blessings are greater than my fathers knew —
from Abraham's very first blessing and since.
I lay, as a crown, all these blessings on you
before all your brothers, dear Joseph, my prince.
Benjamin, you are a ravenous wolf
devouring your foes at the dawning of day;
but you will find hunting is never enough
while spending your evenings dividing your prey.
Then Jacob called for his sons and said: Gather round so that I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come. Come and listen, you sons of Jacob; listen to Israel, your father.
Reuben, you are my firstborn, my strength, the child of my vigorous youth. You are first in rank and first in power. But you are as unruly as a flood, and you will be first no longer. For you went to bed with my wife; you defiled my marriage couch.
Simeon and Levi are two of a kind; their weapons are instruments of violence. May I never join in their meetings; may I never be a party to their plans. For in their anger they murdered men, and they crippled oxen just for sport. A curse on their anger, for it is fierce; a curse on their wrath, for it is cruel.
I will scatter them among the descendants of Jacob; I will disperse them throughout Israel.
Judah, your brothers will praise you. You will grasp your enemies by the neck. All your relatives will bow before you. Judah, my son, is a young lion that has finished eating its prey. Like a lion he crouches and lies down; like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh comes, whom all people shall obey. [LB]
He ties his foal to a grapevine, the colt of his donkey to a choice vine. He washes his clothes in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth are whiter than milk.
Zebulun will settle by the seashore and will be a harbor for ships; his borders will extend to Sidon.
Issachar is a sturdy donkey, resting between two saddlepacks. When he sees how good the countryside is and how pleasant the land, he will bend his shoulder to the load and submit himself to hard labor.
Dan will govern his people, like any other tribe in Israel. Dan will be a snake beside the road,
a poisonous viper along the path that bites the horse’s hooves so its rider is thrown off.
I trust in you for salvation, O Lord!
Gad will be attacked by marauding bands, but he will attack them when they retreat.
Asher will dine on rich foods and produce food fit for kings.
Naphtali is a doe let loose, He gives beautiful words. [NASB]
Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall.
With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility. But his bow remained steady,
his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob,
because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, because of your father’s God, who helps you,
because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the skies above,
blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb. [NIV]
The blessings of your father have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors
up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; [NASB]
Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.
Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, devouring his enemies in the morning and dividing his plunder in the evening.
These are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said as he told his sons good-bye.
He blessed each one with an appropriate message.
Genesis 49:1-28 NLT [unless otherwise noted]