“Then Jacob called his sons, and said: ‘Gather around, that I may tell you what will happen to you in days to come. Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel your father.’”
Once again, we have a great death bed blessing just like Isaac with his sons, Jacob and Esau. Now instead of two sons, there are twelve and this more or less describe in a poetic fashion what will happen to the various tribes of Israel.
“Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the first fruits of my vigor, excelling in rank and excelling in power. Unstable as water, you shall no longer excel because you went up onto to your father’s bed. Then you defiled it. You went up to my couch!”
1) Reuben is the first born in rank and power shall no longer excel because he defiled his father’s bed sleeping with Bilhah, the maid servant of Leah, and mother of his brothers.
“Simeon and Levi are brothers. Weapons of violence are their swords. May I never come into their council. May I not be joined to their company. In their anger they killed men, and at their whim they hamstrung oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.”
2) Simeon and Levi are put together here for their violent actions in Shechem.
3) However the sons of Levi will take on a greater role later, but they will not have territory in Canaan, only cities.
“Judah, your brothers shall praise you, Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies. Your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s whelp. From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches down, he stretches out like a lion. Like a lioness, who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, or the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him. The obedience of the peoples is his. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, he washes his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.”
4) Judah will be the leader. Clearly, he is the favorite like a lion. His brothers will bow down to him, even though he had the strange sexual affair with Tamar.
“Zebulun shall settle at the shore of the sea. He shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon.”
5) Zebulun does not have much except a land on the shore and bordering on Sidon. Very little is said about him.
“Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down between the sheepfolds. He saw that a resting place was good, and that the land was pleasant. So he bowed his shoulder to the burden, and became a slave at forced labor.”
6) Issachar is as strong as a donkey and will become a slave laborer.
“Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a snake by the roadside, a viper along the path that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider falls backward.”
7) Dan will be a judge of his people, but also a snake or viper biting horse heels to throw people off their horses.
“I wait for your salvation, Yahweh. Gad shall be raided by raiders, but he shall raid at their heels.”
8) Gad will raid and be raided.
“Asher’s food shall be rich, and he shall provide royal delicacies.”
9) Asher will be rich.
“Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears lovely fawns.”
10) Naphtali is like a doe.
“Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring. His branches run over the wall. The archers fiercely attacked him, they shot at him, and pressed him hard. Yet his bow remained taut, and his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, by the God of your father who will help you, by God Almighty (El Shaddai) who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains, 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.”
11) Joseph gets a long good blessing, clearly indicating that he is the favorite. Like Judah, he gets special attention.
“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey, and at evening dividing his spoil.”
12) Benjamin is like a wolf, even though he is the youngest.
“All these are the twelve tribes of Israel; and this is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each one of them with a suitable blessing.”
So it is that the 12 tribes of Israel become firmly established. Each one is distinct. However, 2 or 3 tribes will basically dominate the others.