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He stoopeth down, he croucheth, like a lion,
And like a lioness; who will rouse hin? 10. The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet -
And to him shall be submission of nations. 11. He bindeth his foal to the vine,
And his young ass to the noble vine;
And his raiment in the blood of grapes: 12. His eyes are sparkling from wine,
And his teeth white from milk. 13. ZEBULUN will dwell on the coast of seas;
Indeed he will dwell on the coast of ships;
And his side will extend to Zidon. 14. ISSACHAR is a bony ass
Crouching between the folds:
And the land that it was pleasant;
And became a tributary servant. 16. Dan will judge his people
As one of the tribes of Israel.
A viper in the path,
That its rider falleth backward. 18. For Thy help I hope, O Lord! 19. GAD, a host will
him: But he will oppress them on their heels. 20. Of Asher the bread will be fat,
And he will furnish royal dainties. 21. NAPHTALI is a graceful hind:
He uttereth words of beauty. 22. JOSEPH is a fruitful bough,
A fruitful bough by the well:
His branches spread over the wall. 23. And the archers harassed him,
And they assembled in multitude,
And they persecuted him:
And the arms of his hands were brisk. —
From Him, the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, 25. From the God of thy father who may help thee,
And from the Almighty who may bless thee,
Blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26. The blessings of thy father prevail
Above the blessings of the eternal mountains,
And on the brow of the crowned among his brethren. 27. BENJAMIN is a wolf that teareth to pieces:
In the morning he devoureth prey,
And at even he rendeth spoil. 28. All these are the twelve tribes of Israel: and this it is that their father spoke to them, and blessed them; every one according to his blessing he blessed them.
1, 2. After Jacob had expressed his will and pronounced his predictions regarding the future development of the tribe of Joseph, he assembled all his sons, in order to address similar disclosures to each of them individually. This is apparently the connection intended by the author between this and the preceding chapter; and though it may be conceded that the thread is but slight and loose, it is as certain that the general situation is in both sections perfectly identical, that the completest harmony prevails in the nature and arrangement of the facts, and that if our poem has been inserted by the author from an older source, in the manner now recognised by all critics, it occupies in every respect an appropriate place. Though Ephraim and Manasseh are not introduced as two distinct tribes, their existence is with sufficient distinctness alluded to in the words “ Joseph is a fruitful bough... his branches spread over the wall"; on the one hand, the notice of Joseph as one of the sons, was indispensable in the last address of Jacob; but on the other hand, the division of his tribe into two would have raised the number of the tribes to thirteen, since Levi, as yet neither deprived of his political hopes, nor installed in his religious dignity, could here not be omitted.
I. REUBEN, VERS. 3, 4. In all Biblical genealogies, from the earliest down to the latest times, the primogeniture is, without exception, attributed to Reuben.' It is, indeed, expressly recorded that at no stage of Hebrew history the first place was denied to him in the national rolls. Yet it would be rash and illusory to conclude from this circumstance, that the tribe of Reuben was really, at some period, invested with the leadership in Israel. Such an inference is entirely overthrown by the testimony of history. As far as the existing records reach, they contain no notice whatever of a conspicuous position at any time occupied by the Reubenites. A material ascendancy was, above all, impeded, if not rendered impossible, by their geographical situation. They had settled in the east of the Jordan, apart from the principal stock of their brethren, separated from them by a great river, and by the Dead Sea still more debarred from their intercourse than Gad and Manasseh, in a territory which could be considered impure, and beyond the immediate protection of the God of Israel,and which reaching in the east to the very borders of the deserted tracts of Arabia, was incessantly exposed to the rapacious invasions of lawless hordes; and though the men of euben occasionally repelled such attacks not without glory or success, their existence became, by continual dangers, so precarious that they were contented if their community was but preserved from complete extinction, and maintained itself as an independent tribe; in which sense the later blessing of Moses exclaims, “ May Reuben live and not die, nor may his men be few.”4 Their abodes abounded, indeed, in excellent pasture land, forests, and meadows; and many became wealthy proprietors of cattle: but they were by these very blessings alienated from the spirit of war and conquest, and almost from a progressive political life. In the time of the Judges they could not, even by long discussions, be roused to abandon for a while their herds and villages, and to take part in the glorious national war immortalised by the song of Deborah. The two tribes and a half which had settled in the east of the Jordan, laboured, besides, under a common disadvantage. Their habitations spread over an extent of country disproportionately large for their numbers, and hence most onerous to maintain; their cities, in many instances scattered at considerable distances from each other, could mutually afford but little aid against the Ammonites and the other hostile tribes living within the same boundaries and in the very midst of the Hebrews; and the latter were, therefore, compelled to have their folds, for better protection, within the walls of their towns which were thus necessarily enlarged, and became more difficult for defence and control. Indeed during protracted periods the people lived partially in tents, in the manner of nomads, frequently wandering from district to district, changing old abodes with new ones, and cultivating the soil but little or subordinately. Hence arose not only great uncertainty in the definition of the boundaries, but considerable fluctuations in the possession of the towns; different tribes succeeded each other in the occupation of the same regions and cities, which, on the other hand, were not unfrequently inhabited by a mixed population. How could, then, tribes without unity and almost without connection, far from the chief seats of Hebrew progress in politics, literature, and religious development, and engaged in pursuits forming nearly the lowest steps in the great ladder of civilisation, at any time acquire sway and authority over their much more advanced kinsmen?
" See xxix. 32; xxxv. 23; xlvi. 8; Exod. i. 2; Num. i. 20; xxvi. 5; Deut. xxxiii. 5; etc.
? Comp. i Chr. v. 1. 3 See p. 490.
* Deut. xxxiii. 6. The numerical strength of Reuben seems originally not to have been insignificant; the tribe is recorded to have counted, at the exodus
from Egypt, 46,500 men above 20 years of age, able to carry arms (Num. i. 20, 21); but to have diminished at the end of the wanderings to 43,730 (Num. xxvi. 7); while the military men of the two and a half easteru tribes are, in 1 Chr. v. 18, together stated at 44,760.
Comp. Judg. v. 15, 16.
The conclusion, therefore, resulting from these considerations is, that Reuben was indeed the firstof those Hebrew tribes, which, deriving their origin from the regions of the Euphrates, and for some time living in Egypt, ultimately advanced into Palestine from the east of the Jordan; but that so far from being able to turn this priority of settlement to advantage, it forfeited its authority by haughty wantonness, and still more by repulsive immorality of life and conduct, which the kindred clans regarded with disgust, and almost with execration. All this is sufficiently transparent from the tenour of the verses under discussion. Reuben is the firstling of power who might well have acquired a superior and pre-eminent position; but he did not obtain it, because he polluted the honour of the house of Israel.'
Thus it is clear that “the right of primogeniture,” if understood to mean double or, at least, larger property, was never possessed by Reuben; and hence it is irrelevant to enquire by which tribe that privilege was inherited, after it was lost by Reuben. And is it, as a general principle, historically probable or even possible, that the privilege of the firstborn” should have been transferred to any later or younger tribe? How should it be recognised? Was it a standing and necessarily permanent dignity? This is certainly no less improbable than the uniform distribution of the people in twelve tribes after an imaginary or astrological principle.?
However, the question, which tribes successively occupied the most decided influence among the Hebrew immigrants and conquerors, is not only of great interest, but of very high historical importance. It is commonly maintained that the chief authority was first exercised by the tribe of Joseph, on account of the exalted virtue and wisdom attributed to its founder, but that it later virtually passed over to the tribe of Judah. But though the accounts regarding the tribe of Joseph are preserved to us in considerable copiousness and completeness, they never record, nor even allow the inference, that the south of Palestine at any time acknowledged its superiority; here, on the contrary, the tribe of Judah exhibited, from the beginning, the energy and disposition of appropriating to itself the supremacy; not even Gideon, the powerful and much revered hero, could venture to defy the jealousy of Judah by accepting the crown which was offered to him, and in due time became hereditary in the family of Jesse. But while David and Solomon confirmed and extended the power of their house at home and abroad, the tribe of Ephraim also continued its development with zeal and steadiness, and gradually grew so much in strength and self-reliance, that despotism and imbecility on the part of Solomon's immediate successors, encouraged it to proclaim its independence and to found a separate kingdom, which was acknowledged by nine other tribes; so that thenceforth the empire of the north and Ephraim as its recognised head, with a nice balance of power, co-existed with the southern monarchy of Judah. This is the point of view occupied by our poem, which describes both Judah and Joseph as royal tribes, flourishing, happy, and victorious.
II. SIMEON, VERS. 5—7. The destinies of the tribe of Simeon were, in some points, not unlike those of the Reubenites, but in other respects decidedly more melancholy. Though in the remi. niscence of the nation regarded as the second of the tribes, it never succeeded, like Reuben, in acquiring for habitation large or fertile districts. It is true, that the Simeonites were from early times distinguished and renowned for daring prowess, which emboldened them to seek abodes in most dangerous regions, cautiously avoided, except for occasional invasions, by the rest of the Hebrew tribes, in those south-western parts of Palestine, adjoining Egypt, where they had perpetually to contend with powerful and merciless enemies, as the Edomites and Amalekites; and tradition attributes to them a degree of courage which at an early period enabled them, in conjunc
1 Sce xxxiv, 22; comp. Lev. xviii, 8; 2 Sam. xvi. 21, 22.
See on xlviii. p. 488.
lion with Levi, to conquer a town situated so far northward as Shechem (xxxiv. 25– 31). But following the traces afforded by our song, we are justified in concluding, that their valour too soon degenerated into sanguinary ferocity, which prompted them to undertake wild and reckless, and often impious and rapacious, expeditions, sadly reducing their numbers and their strength, and calling down upon their name the hatred and abomination both of their antagonists and their kinsmen. The decrease of their population is indeed more striking and extraordinary than in any other tribe; for while they numbered, in the first year after the departure from Egypt, no less than 59,300 warriors, they had during the wanderings in the desert fallen to 22,200, or to nearly one third of their former strength.Nor did they ever in later periods recover from their fatal losses, or increase in any proportion to the steady growth of other tribes. For their enterprising audacity was not deterred even by their numerical weakness from most hazardous schemes. Repressed to narrow and not very blooming or productive strips of land, and desirous to gain larger scope and more favourable opportunities for breeding of cattle, to which occupation they were chiefly led by their own reverses and the general history of their nation, they are recorded so late as the eighth century, in the time of king Hezekiah, to have made brilliant and successful attacks upon some southern or Hamitic tribes, and to have taken possession of their tempting and fertile districts. But these emigrations far beyond the proper boundaries of the land of the Israelites, and partially extending to Mount Seir, where they expelled the rest of the Amalekites, were only in harmony with the tastes displayed by the Simeonites at much earlier stages of their existence. Too much weakened by anterior misfortunes to attempt alone the conquest of a part of Canaan, they joined the infinitely more powerful tribe of Judah, relying upon its generosity for the ultimate acquisition of adequate abodes. Their confidence was not betrayed. The men of Judah subdued districts too vast for their own occupation, and they willingly conceded to Simeon the southern tracts on the coast of the Mediterranean, which included a large portion of the territory of the Philistines. It was, therefore, at all times avowed that the Simeonites, as if they had no independent or equal claim, “ obtained their inheritance in the midst of the inheritance of the men of Judah.”S They received seventeen cities with the surrounding villages;ø but too powerless to maintain, and too few to occupy them, they were compelled to give up some to the tribe of Judah, and to abandon others to their heathen neighbours. How could they, therefore, be expected to conquer the strong Philistine towns situated within their own boundaries? And yet such an attempt was necessary for the realization of the plans and ideas upon which the Hebrew conquest of Canaan was based. The sword of Judah performed this duty also for the fraternal tribe: however, the success was but temporary; and Gaza, Ascalon, and Ekron, though taken by Judah, could not be defended by Simeon. This tribe, therefore, was imperceptibly, but long before the exile, entirely absorbed by that of Judah, with which it naturally was joined after the division of the empire; and it ceased so completely to form an independent or united community, that it could entirely be passed over in the blessing of Moses;8
3 Comp. Num. i. 22, 23; xxvi. 12–14; 1 Chron. iv. 38.
4 See 1 Chron. iv. 39-44.
5 See Josh. xix. I, 9; Judg. i. 3, 17; comp. Josh, xxi. 9.
6 Josh, xix. 2–8; comp. I Chr. iv. 2433.
? Comp. Judg. i. 18; Josh. xv. 45–47.
8 Deut. xxxiii. Hence the empire of Judah is in some passages stated to consist of one tribe only, which, together with the ten tribes of Israel, made up the whole
nation of twelve tribes (sce 1 Ki. xi. 13, 30—32, 35, 36); since Simeon, no more counted separately, was included in Judah. But in i Ki, xii. 21 it is stated, that Rehoboam assembled “the whole house of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin to fight against the house of Israel”; it appears, therefore, that parts of Benjamin fell, after the division, to Judah, as was almost unavoidable from the geographical position of both tribes (see on ver. 27; comp. Ezr. iv.l; x.9); while the small tribe of Simcon