● Gen 49:16 . . Dan shall govern his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.
That prediction alludes to Dan's autonomous attitude towards the other tribes. In point of fact, Dan's tribe didn't join forces with the others in the north to help repel oppressors. (Judg 5:17)
A good example of Dan's autonomous attitude is Mr. Samson. During his tenure as a Judge in Israel (Judg 13:1-16:31) Samson never mustered an army nor led his own men in a charge up a San Juan hill. He fought alone, and he died alone; and seemed to prefer it that way. Definitely neither a commander nor a team player.
● Gen 49:17 . . Dan shall be a serpent by the road, a viper by the path, that bites the horse's heels so that his rider is thrown backward.
A number of poisonous snakes-- e.g. rattlesnakes --don't hunt for food by chasing their prey in racy pursuit but choose rather to coil up and patiently wait along the edges of paths for something to come along. They're typically sluggish on the move but very speedy on the strike. Rattlers, especially, are powerful strikers that don't even have to clamp down to bite. Their strike inertia is powerful enough to drive their fangs into a target's flesh like sewing needles.
When rattlers bite large animals like horses, it's not for food, but generally a reflexive response to a perceived threat; which suggests that Dan's tribe would have hair-trigger tempers that flair up at every provocation-- real or imagined --totally surprising the objects of their fury. People like that are extremely reactive: they're never rational and objective, no, they are emotional, thin-skinned and easily insulted; they get mad over nothing, and every disagreement is an act of war.
It's conceivable that the viper-ish nature of Dan's tribe reminded Jacob of Gen 3:15's prediction to crush the head of the Serpent who caused Man's ruin; and possibly prompted his next remark.
● Gen 49:18 . . I wait for your deliverance, O Lord!
Everyone becomes curious at one time or another how the Old Testament's luminaries were saved prior to Christ's crucifixion. Well, the interesting thing is: they were all aware that Christ was on the way.
"Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow." (1Pet 1:10-11)
A prophet is simply an inspired man-- the earliest known were Abel (Luke 11:50-51) Enoch (Jude 1:14) Noah (2Pet 2:5) and Abraham. (Gen 20:7)
In other words: pre-crucifixion believers looked forward to Christ, while post-crucifixion believers look back.
"Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad." (John 8:56)
● Gen 49:19 . . Gad shall be raided by raiders, but he shall raid at their heels.
Gad's tribe, along with Rueben and Manasseh, chose to settle on the wrong side of the Jordan River instead of crossing over into Canaan (Num 32:1-32). Their decision effectively isolated them from the other nine tribes and left their eastern flank vulnerable to desert marauders; which were more nuisance than anything else as Gad's tribe were competent warriors and able to hold their own. (cf. 1Chrn 5:18)
Though the major portion of Christ's ministry was confined within the national borders of Israel, he crossed over the Jordan on occasion to visit the three tribes on the east side (Matt 11:21, Mark 6:45). Gad was the region of the famous swine-herd suicide. (Mark 5:1-13)
● Gen 49:20 . . Asher's bread shall be rich, and he shall yield royal dainties.
Asher's tribe was apportioned land bordering Zebulun and Naphtali, along the Mediterranean coastline in the region of ancient Tyre. The area was famed for its fertility (Deut 33:24). Ashur was located in a Phoenician stronghold of political and commercial activity. The phrase "he shall yield royal dainties" possibly alludes to the tribe's best produce being sold to supply the homes of Phoenician dignitaries.
NOTE: This chapter in Genesis wasn't recorded in prose, but rather, Hebrew poetry, making it difficult, if not impossible, for translators to correctly interpret some of Jacob's sayings. The poem contains tricky metaphors rather than clear facts; which only complicates the section even more.
● Gen 49:21 . . Naphtali is a hind let loose, which yields lovely fawns.
A hind is a female of the red deer species-- males are harts. (e.g. Ps 42:1)
Red deer aren't a domestic breed; so the metaphor refers to a captured hind being returned to the wild rather than butchered for its meat. Apparently, this particular hind was pregnant when captured, and the hunter knew the unborn would certainly die if he killed their mother. By returning the expectant hind to the field, the hunter helped assure the survival of local herds; and he no doubt intended to hunt the fawns as adults in the future. That was not only humane, but also a very wise conservation measure too.
Exactly what Jacob meant to convey by this metaphor is difficult to ascertain with confidence. It could be that Naphtali's people exhibited artifice, artistry, intelligence, abilities and aptitudes that their enemies would recognize as far too valuable to waste by just indiscriminately killing them off in wholesale slaughter simply to seize their lands and goods.
As an example; some of Nazi Germany's scientists were brought to American and became very useful in developing the USA's rocket science, and subsequently NASA's space program. What if the US had executed those scientists because they were responsible for the buzz bombs that devastated London? No, sometimes human resources are well worth the restraint to spare them.
NOTE: Barak, an ordinary man recruited by Deborah to become a military commander, was of Naphtali. (Judg 4:4-5:31)
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